New York University Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Sub Navigation

Researchers Identify “Carbohydrates in a Coal Mine” for Cancer Detection

March 3, 2014
N-222

Researchers at New York University and the University of Texas at Austin have discovered that carbohydrates serve as identifiers for cancer cells. Their findings, which appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show how these molecules may serve as signals for cancer and explain what’s going on inside these cells, pointing to new ways in which sugars function as a looking glass into the workings of their underlying structures.

“Carbohydrates can tell us a lot about what’s going on inside of a cell, so they are potentially good markers for disease,” said Lara Mahal, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Chemistry and the study’s corresponding author. “Our study reveals how cancer cells produce certain ‘carbohydrate signatures’ that we can now identify.”

Carbohydrates, or glycans, are complex cell-surface molecules that control multiple aspects of cell biology, including cancer metastasis. But less understood is the link between categories of cells and corresponding carbohydrate structures. That is, what do certain carbohydrates on a cell’s surfaces tell us about its characteristics and inner workings or, more succinctly, how do you read a code backwards?

In the PNAS study, the researchers examined the role of microRNA, non-coding RNA that are regulators of the genome. Specific miRNAs—such as miR-200—play a role in controlling tumor growth. Using microarray technology developed by NYU’s Mahal, the team examined cancer cells in an effort to see how they generated a carbohydrate signature. Specifically, they mapped how miRNA controls carbohydrate signatures.

In their analysis, the researchers could see that miRNA molecules serve as major regulators of the cell’s surface-level carbohydrates—a discovery that showed, for the first time, that miRNA play a significant regulatory role in this part of the cell, also known as the glycome. Moreover, they could see which regulatory process was linked to specific carbohydrates.

“Carbohydrates aren’t just telling you the type of cell they came from, but also by which process they were created,” explains Mahal. “Our results showed that there are regulatory networks of miRNAs and that they are associated with specific carbohydrate codes.”

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (7 DP2 OD004711-02).

This Press Release is in the following Topics:
Research, Arts and Science, Faculty

Type: Press Release

Press Contact: James Devitt | (212) 998-6808

Researchers Identify “Carbohydrates in a Coal Mine” for Cancer Detection

Researchers at NYU and the University of Texas at Austin have discovered that carbohydrates function as identifiers for cancer cells, making these molecules potential “carbohydrates in coal mine” for cancer detection. ©iStockPhoto/TomasSereda


Search News



NYU In the News

Paying It Backward: NYU Alum Funds Scholarships

The Wall Street Journal profiled Trustee Evan Chesler on why he decided to chair the Momentum fund-raising campaign.

A Nobel Prize Party: Cheese, Bubbles, and a Boson

The New Yorker talked to Professor Kyle Cranmer and graduate student Sven Kreiss about NYU’s role in the discovery of the Higgs boson, which resulted in a Nobel prize for the scientists who predicted its existence.

The World as They Knew It

The New York Times reviewed the exhibit at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World on how ancient Greeks and Romans mapped the known and unknown areas of their world.

Elite Institutions: Far More Diverse Than They Were 20 Years Ago

NYU made stronger gains over the last 20 years in increasing diversity than any other major research university, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Program Seeks to Nurture ‘Data Science Culture’
at Universities

The New York Times reported on the multi-million collaboration among NYU and two other universities to harness the potential of Big Data, including an interview with Professor Yann LeCun, director of NYU’s Center for Data Science.

NYU Footer